Drug Prosecutions: Racial Disparity, San Diego State and U.S. News Rankings

(Marc Miller) Human Rights Watch recently reported that the depressing old story that African Americans are disproportionately drug defendants remains true. (News story here.)  One reason may be political;  drug search warrants of wealthier, whiter neighborhoods have a higher success rate (see Lawrence Benner, Racial Disparity in Narcotics Search Warrants, 6 Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 193 (2002)) suggesting that the standards are higher to search there.  The police understandably avoid making mistakes with people having the power to retaliate: “If you search the King, the King must be holding.”

There are, I am willing to bet, active drug networks at Andover and Spence, at Williams and Harvard, but generally, they are let alone unless they go out of their way to attract police attention.  That’s why the recent DEA drug investigation and raid at San Diego State University is so interesting. 

Leaving affluent kids alone is, I think, essential to the political stability of the War on Drugs.  Why don’t headmasters and deans at elite schools beg for the services of undercover narcotics investigators, who could develop solid cases against young dealers for multiple felonies and then pack them off to state prison for double-digit terms (forfeiting their trust funds in the process, of course)?  Would that not delight parents and fellow students would then be protected from these criminals?  My bet is that parents and students would instead say that police have better things to do than arrest good young people for conduct that millions have engaged in, conduct which, at least as to these kids from fine families, warrants rehabilitation and treatment, not punishment.    

This approach was abandoned at SDSU, where 75 students were arrested and charged with serious crimes.  (NPR story here).  So we are given a perfect conflict: Strong cases based on months of investigation of sitting ducks with a complete lack of basic drug dealer professionalism, serious charges that could send these kids to state prison, and affluent defendants whose parents (and I can hear the popping of champagne corks even here in Tucson) are about to confer a substantial windfall (75 defendants!) on the   best criminal defense attorneys.

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